March 30, 2012
First Listen: Rufus Wainwright's Out Of The Game
Although it was recorded in New York, Rufus Wainwright’s smooth seventh album Out Of The Game sounds like it was rolled in the haze of the Los Angeles canyons. For those worried that the record's producer, Mark Ronson, has turned Rufus into Amy Winehouse, it can't be done. Together they've created a low-key 70’s style singer/songwriter pop gem. Here is a track by track:
Out Of The Game: The fizzy title track, like a Honky Chateau leftover, seems to be sung to his younger self with trademark wit: “You’re only a young thing, about to sleep with a sea of men. Just hanging around, wearing something from God knows where. Just having a ball.” Hear it
Jericho: Another slayer that sounds like he recorded it with The Band in 1976. It's all about wanting someone to change, when you know they really won't. Waiting for them to finally come through. The middle eight has the finest lyrical piece on the album: "Baby I know that you're too sad to cry / Well, my little darling, guess what? / So am I. / Still I believe we ought to shed a tear! / The openhearted have nothing to fear. / But I don't even think you hear me at all / Under your medieval ceiling, behind your biblical wall / Guess I'll have to put my trumpet back in the case / And get behind this here cannon covered in lace."
Rashida is one of those classic Rufus songs where you feel like he's telling you only part of an inside story, this one having something to do with Vanity Fair. The girl singers here are of the Velvet Underground variety, whoop whooping it. Enigmatic line: "I'd like to thank you Rashida for giving me a reason to call Ms. Portman and to write this song." UK fans can download this for free
Barbara is fantastic, like nothing he's done before. Reminiscent of Bowie's Young Americans album (think Win), it's built on a swirling synth sound that's slinky and almost r'n'b. The imagery is along the lines of "drinking rosé in the the rain" (this album has a particularly overcast atmosphere). With a simple, almost choral effect on the chorus, this track defines 70's AM radio mellow chic.
Welcome To The Ball is strangely Beatles-like, with string crescendos, horns and vocal effects. My least favorite song on Out Of The Game.
Montauk is gorgeous and sweet, a daydream of life in the future with his daughter Viva. The most traditional Rufus song on the album, it works best in the context of the songs that surround it, pleasingly breaking up the earlier tempos and instrumentation. Hear it
Bitter Tears is poppy and sounds a bit like some of the adventures on Want One. Built on a synthy background, it again has circus-y Beatles elements. The lyric sheet will reveal if this is about morning or mourning.
Respectable Dive. A slow, drunken shuffle - almost country, but not quite. "Baby, I love you and I do not want to lose you / but I'm not able to put my cards on the table. / And if you only knew of the hand that I'm holding / you would be blushing /and I am so far from bluffing / in this respectable dive."
Perfect Man brings back the Young Americans sound with heavy bass and references to Berlin. It's filled with bon mots like "another unveiling of a bright red herring..."
Sometimes You Need is a career highlight. Sensitive Rufus - his voice stripped of ego - returns on this sad guitar ballad about the necessity of being alone. "Sometimes a movie star's eyes gets you through the love and the lines. Let's get lost in Los Angeles,” he sings before a stunning string arrangement waltzes the song out.
Song Of You. Another forlorn ballad, this one with a particularly strong vocal. Ronson has recorded Rufus's voice beautifully. It's not laid on top - it's in the mix, but still very clear and in control. "There are many lyrics to choose from, but there's only one of you."
Candles is permeated with melancholy. At over 7 minutes, it is a proper album finale. "The churches have run out of candles" he sings on what seems to be a march for his mother, whose death clearly still affects him deeply. The end has a moving twist - I won't spoil it - that carries out the song's melody. It's a goosebumps-on-arms coda to a lovely album.
Summing it up, Rufus has gone back to what he does best: intricate arrangements and sharp lyrics. Out Of The Game is really not the big "pop album" he promised, but did we want that from him? It's neither as gilded as the sometimes over-the-top Release The Stars, nor is it crafted from one dark mood, like Songs For Lulu. Instead, he finds himself somewhere in between: calmer, wiser, but still a little haunted.
Out Of The Game is released on April 23. The UK will have a deluxe edition.